Trigger warning: this story discusses abuse. If you are worried that your relationship, or that of a friend or family member, is controlling or unsafe, visit Women's Aid or call the Freephone 24/7 National Domestic Violence Helpline, run by Women’s Aid in partnership with Refuge, on 0808 2000 247.
I always wondered growing up what exactly healthy relationships were, what they looked like, and how I could achieve them. Before I was brought into foster care when I was 9, my mum was in an abusive relationship with my stepdad, in which I was also abused.
Even from a young age, I'd never really had a clear image of what was right or what was wrong, I thought that my mum's relationship with my stepdad was completely normal. That was until I started to grow up and really take in what exactly happened. Once I had worked through the events that took place, which I am still working on, I began to try and see a different outlook on life and relationships and what was considered healthy.
At 17, I have had my own partners and I have learnt the importance of things such as communication, consent, honesty, and love. It wasn't always that easy to understand or recognise these things in my relationships, but luckily, for the last 2 and a half years, I have been with an amazing foster family. They have helped guide me through these key concepts and helped me explore things such as my own sexuality and how different relationships can include or not include different aspects. Having both of these amazing women in my life has really highlighted the importance of positive role models. They have both really challenged my negative associations with relationships as well, such as confidentiality with private information about each other within and out of that relationship.
In my own experience of dating different genders, I have found that the main concepts are the same, though when dating non-men I noticed there was a different aspect of safety, for example, in public. These aspects of safety mainly stem from homophobia me and my past girlfriend often experienced, which could sometimes be quite threatening behaviour from people, the main difference being I didn’t feel this amount of anxiety when being in public with a male partner. Times and situations like this helped me understand the importance of these concepts in my relationships, in situations like the one I have described communication between you and your partner is so important. A simple "are you okay with this?" can make all the difference in making sure you’re both comfortable and calm.
Of course, taking romantic relationships to the side, friendships and relationships with family are just as important and the same values of communication, consent, honesty, and love are vital.
As someone who has always struggled with family and friends, I have found it's important to remember the amazing thing of free will. This may not feel as though it applies when you're younger, but as you get older you realise that you have the complete right to remove yourself from such situations if you feel that's best for you. Unfortunately, I have had to do this with some family and friends, and although it may be difficult, it's okay to put you and your own mental health first. You matter too! What helped me most to remove myself from these relationships was knowing that it was the right thing to do and that I wasn’t the person in the wrong.
Many people feel obliged to stay in unbalanced or unhealthy relationships but as long as you’re safe and it feels right, it's okay to move on with your life. If you feel that they drag you down with their own problems, it's okay to not want that. Also, it is important to recognise that it’s ok to take a step back. If your friends, for instance, are struggling you don’t have to be the person that they heavily rely on. Of course, if you are able to support them in any way that’s amazing, but never feel pressured to do so. If you feel that supporting them is dragging you down, or it is impacting your own mental health, it's okay to not want that.
Although it may seem now that I've got it all figured out, I still struggle in my own ways and I still have things I need to personally improve about myself, and that's completely okay. I’ve learned that just because it looks like everyone has got all their stuff together around you, it doesn't necessarily mean they have.
Nobody is perfect and it's okay to make mistakes, but what's even more important is that was we learn from them.
Further resources and advice:
- If you have experienced domestic abuse, you can find your local service on the Domestic Abuse Directory
- If you have experienced domestic abuse and want to read more about ways to get support, check out this information from Refuge
- If you are under 25 and looking for more information on sex and relationships, visit The Mix
- If you are under 25 and are looking for someone to talk to, you can call The Mix’s helpline on 0808 808 4994 (UK). You can also chat with them by email, text or through their webchat
- If you have experienced antiLGBTQIA+ violence, abuse or harassment and need support, contact Galop